Which is your favorite? Well, if sales are any indication at Aloha Tofu – Hawaii’s largest Tofu manufacturer – according to Paul Uyehara, president of the company, firm Tofu clearly outsells their soft Tofu by a 2-to-1 margin, and has been that way as far back as he can recall.
Narrowing it down to firm vs. soft tofu sales based on demographic, while he didn’t have regional retail sales figures readily available, Paul does have a general conclusion of which of their products are most popular by ethnicity, based on experience over the years seeing who comes into the factory to purchase fresh-off-the-press tofu, as well as trends in restaurant orders.
Most popular Aloha Tofu products observed based on ethnicity are as followed:
Chinese – Soft Tofu, Soy Milk
Korean – Firm Tofu, Yushidofu (For Soondubu)
Japanese – Firm Tofu
Okinawan – Firm Tofu
Southeast Asian (Singaporean, Thai, Vietnamese, Filipino) – Deep-fried Tofu
Those were the most obvious to him as one who oversees the company he’s worked for all his life. Which is just a generalization of course, as there are exceptions to the rule. And not leave to out every other race around the world, however obviously, Tofu IS an asian food originating in China, that only in recent times has grown in popularity in the west, as has its liquid forefather, Soy Milk. ‘Silk’ is a good example of that.
Speaking of which, prior to a one-on-one “Tofu Talk 101″ interview with Paul at his office, I did NOT know Tofu was essentially coagulated Soy Milk, but thought it was some complex result of taking soybeans and converting the whole bean into this white gelatinous brick. Learn something new everyday!
Sitting down with Mr. Uyehara as he explained to me the entire Tofu-making process was truly fascinating, yet at the same time I sort of thought, “is that it?” I mean, you could almost think of Tofu as “Soy Milk Jello”, in its most basic sense.
The key factor in what sets Hawaii’s local tofu factories apart from its imported competitors on the mainland and Japan, Korea and China are of course FRESHNESS. So fresh in fact, there’s only a 6-day shelf life for Aloha’s Firm Tofu and 3 weeks for its Soft Tofu. This compared to, say the popular HOUSE brand from California, which has a shelf life of several months.
Which comes down to a production process you may have heard of before called PASTEURIZATION. This is a process where a food product is heated and then cooled – sometimes repeatedly – in its final packaging or container to slow spoilage due to microbial growth, by reducing the number of viable pathogens in the food. The next step from pasteurization would be sterilization, which has more adverse effects than benefits, as while turning food entirely pathogen-free, this process significantly reduces the quality and taste of the product.
So why does Aloha Tofu’s Firm Tofu only have a 6-day shelf life, while the Soft Tofu lasts 3 weeks? It’s because their Soft Tofu is pasteurized for one cycle of heat and cooling, taking approximately one hour in each stage. This, as compared to Aloha Tofu’s Firm Tofu which is non-pasteurized. Yet it’s sort of flip-flop as far as heat is concerned.
Firm Tofu gets a bath in ice cold water for about 45 minutes after coming from the pressing station
When Aloha’s Soft Tofu is made, the coagulant, which is what causes it to semi-harden or “gelatinize” if you will, is added to the soy milk when it’s COLD. Once the coagulant is added, the soy milk is filled into the packaging tray, sealed air-tight by it’s plastic label, then goes down a conveyor belt through the pasteurizer, which has a heat section on top and cool water bath section below, for a single-pass heat and chill pasteurization process. This not only reduces the pathogen level for extended shelf life, but also activates the coagulant to thicken the what was once soy milk into soft tofu.
Paul notes, that while they do single-stage pasteurization to retain as much quality texture and flavor for their soft tofu, manufacturers such as House who have much larger production volume and national distribution, have a multi-stage pasteurization process for all their tofu products in order to extend shelf life.
I asked him why they don’t pasteurize their firm Tofu like House does, and he reiterated once again, their company stands by FRESHNESS, which pasteurization depletes some of that characteristic.
Continuing on with the firm Tofu, the coagulant is added to HOT Soy Milk in a bucket, which almost immediately begins to congeal. It’s then mixed around with a paddle to create air pockets. The aerated and congealed soy milk mixture then gets placed in a mold lined with cloth. Then pressure is applied to the curdling soy milk by pneumatically-actuated plates on top that press down on the mass to firm it up, making it’s chemical and physical metamorphosis into tofu. The porous cloth liner strains out the tofu “whey” from the “curd”, similar to making cheese. This pressing, compacting action resulting in FIRM Tofu.
This now firm-textured steaming hot tofu is in slab form, where it is then hand-cut into the final finished block servings, where they are then placed in a cold water shock. From there, the firm tofu gets hand-placed into each slightly over-sized packaging tray, which then heads off to the labeling station, where each tray of firm tofu is filled with good ‘ole cold, pure H20, with no other additives or preservatives. Label sealed, Aloha’s now “cold-off-the-press” Firm Tofu then gets a dousing of ice cubes while it stands on the side during final production; It’s final destiny at the factory being a temporary walk-in refrigerator. From there, they’re almost immediately dispatched to company delivery trucks, ready to rush them to a supermarket near you!
One of the most interesting steps in the Tofu-making process is the separation of soy milk from from the solid mass of the whole soybean. The result being a pulverized, flaky, semi-moist byproduct called Okara…
This solid soybean byproduct is naturally rich in dietary fiber, while also containing notable amounts of protein, calcium, potassium and vitamin E.
The thing is, what’s tragic is the lack of popularity for Okara on the retail level here in Hawaii. Where compounded by its short shelf life (3 days max.), while Aloha Tofu does sell packages of Okara at Don Quijote and Marukai in very limited quantities, most of it gets given away as feed for livestock (mostly pigs) to local ranchers and farmers. We’re talking about a 50% “waste” factor by gross weight of whole soybeans that Aloha Tofu goes through. Ouch! Business and bottomline figures aside, perhaps it’s a karma thing about giving back to the planet. Life is like that sometimes, you know!
Well, I for one will hereby do my part on this blog to try and make Okara more popular to eat for us health-conscious humans too, gosh darned it! More on this subject in a future post, I assure you!
Interestingly, Paul mentioned that he met a Tofu maker in Japan a while ago who invented a proprietary machine able to convert the Okara into a powdered form that was then added back into the soy milk during the coagulation process. This is that Tofu, using 100% of the soybean, Okara and all…
Japan Tofu featuring 100% use of the Soybean, including the Okara
Aloha Tofu came close to securing rights to purchase the Okara conversion equipment, however, let’s just say some “internal technicalities” got in the way. Oh well. Again, good for the local pig farmers who continue to get free Okara feed from them.
Back to our soft vs. firm comparo’, so you folks don’t think I’m “in bed” with Aloha Tofu (which I kinda’ am lol), let’s check out a few other brands of tofu out there, where Costco locations on Oahu sell Honda Tofu…
I buy this Honda 2-pack every now and then, which is a GREAT deal at $3.22 for two 20 oz. containers, breaking down to $1.61 each, undercutting Aloha Tofu when theirs goes sale at the usual $1.99 price (regular $2.99) at Don Quijote.
As for firmness, I’d say Honda tofu is “semi-firm”, standing smack in the middle between Aloha’s Soft and Firm Tofu. I also find the Honda Tofu to be very “wet” due to being quite porous, where you have to press drain and/or paper towel dry it quite a bit before you can put sauce on or cook with it.
As for Honda Tofu at our local Costco, I asked Paul why being Hawaii’s largest manufacturer, Aloha Tofu isn’t the vendor for that product there. He said Costco approached the company as their Tofu supplier way back when Costco first came to the island at Salt Lake. At that time his grandfather was running the business, to which for a specific reason he didn’t know why, the proposition was turned down. While I didn’t inquire further, my guess is they didn’t have enough manpower and/or equipment at the time for the added demand on top of their already full plate supplying their existing retailers. And/or, perhaps they couldn’t come to an agreement on cost margins.
Only noticing it recently at the Kapahulu Safeway is yet another locally-made brand I’ve never seen by the name Mrs. Cheng’s Nigari Tofu, available in both soft and firm as well…
Back at Don Quijote, yet another locally-made brand spotted on the shelf was this here Fujiya Sukui Tofu…
The Fujiya Sukui Tofu sells for $2.99 per 14 oz. net weight container, appearing to have chunks of soft tofu floating in water, not mold-formed and pasteurized in it like Aloha Tofu’s. Fukui also has a Firm (Momen) Tofu in a rectangle tray for the same price, which was out of stock as of this photo.
Local companies in this business on the neighbor islands include Tamashiro Tofu Factory in Wailuku, Maui and Tomori Tofu Factory in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii; both of which have been said to be known for their extra firm, firm tofu.
Speaking of extra firm, a brand you mainland folks are probably familiar with is House, who distributes Tofu under 5 levels of firmness. Which to make this more interesting, we’ll be adding House’ Extra Firm, as well their Extra Soft Tofu to this comparison…
So what we have here is both a battle of freshness and firmness, where when it comes to comparing Tofu, those two factors are pretty much the main deal, right? “But what about taste?” you’re probably asking. We’ll get to that in a bit.
Let’s have a closer look now at each label here, where I might add, that evidently DQ was out of stock at the time I went shopping for this demo’ of the House brand’s specifically labeled EXTRA SOFT Tofu. Here’s that one to start, which I’m adding to this comparison, post edit…
Tokusen Kinugoshi means “special silken”.
Aloha Tofu’s Soft Tofu, while not labeled in markets here as such, is considered “Kinugoshi”, or “Silken”.
Aloha Tofu’s Firm Tofu, while also not labeled in markets here as such, is considered “Momen”, which in Japanese translates to “Cotton Cloth”, in reference to the traditional tofu pressing process.
Notice for the coagulant (the additive that converts and firms-up the soy milk into tofu), both House and Aloha use Glucona Delta-Lactone (a.k.a. “CDL”) for their soft tofu, while for the firm tofu, they both use Nigari, which is Calcium Sulfate, along with Calcium Chloride. According to Paul of Aloha Tofu, think of Calcium Sulfate, a.k.a. Nigari (which means “bitter”), as “Sea Water, with the salt and the water removed”, which what you have left behind is Calcium Sulfate. Aloha Tofu sources their Nigari from Kona Sea Salt, produced by sea water pumped from 2200 feet below sea level off the Kona coast.
FYI: Aloha Tofu also offers cubed, pressed, extra firm (25 lbs. minimum via special order), soy milk and yudofu (extra soft tofu) direct from the factory while supplies are available and/or special order. For inquiries, please call Aloha Factory direct at (808) 845-2669 and ask for Paul or Noreen.
Let’s continue on with our comparison, where we first must rid as much excess water as possible from the tofu blocks by wrapping them in paper towels…
After letting the paper towels extract excess water and changed a few times, we’re ready for service…
Whoah, whoah, wait a minute. Second from the left, what happened to the Aloha Soft Tofu? Buggah stay all buss’ up! Well, not long after attempting to move it onto another plate to cut up into cubes (yeah right!), this is what happened…
Ack!!! That’s OK. As long as it doesn’t melt back into Soy Milk liquid-on-a-plate, it should be fine. lol
Back to the post-edit addition of House’ Extra Soft Tofu, let’s “detray” that one. I think I can. I think I can. I think I…
…can! Whew, it didn’t break on me. **Wipes sweat off brow** I tell ya’, these extra soft tofu sure are delicate ones. Ki o tsukete, nei. After removing excess water with the paper towel, let’s attempt to flip that over onto the serving plate again in one piece. I think I can. I think I can. I think I…
…can! Whew. OK, let’s see if this time I can cut it cleanly, at least into wedges…
Ah, very nice! That looks good to go. Add some garnish later, and we’ll be all set.
Here’s the rest of the gang, cubed-up (except for one. You’re welcome Paul. You’re very welcome. lol) ‘n plated and ready for sampling as well…
Left to right: House Tokusen Kinugoshi (extra soft) Tofu, Aloha Soft Tofu, Aloha Firm Tofu, House Extra Firm Tofu
Before we cover it in “pretty” garnishes”, let’s take a closer look individually so we can compare the various appearances in texture and tone of “Tofu White” each one has…
Paul will probably have a fit when he sees how “destroyed” I presented his Soft Tofu in this comparo’, but no worries! Daijobu desu! Garnish it with Beni Shoga (Pickled Ginger), Takuan (Pickled Turnip), along with some chopped Negi (green onion) and it’s ALL good!…
Ko no hou ga ii, so desu yo! That’s so much better!
Now before we sauce’ ‘em with the go-to classic shoyu and minced ginger, let’s first try each one plain so we can really taste and feel the difference between each one, starting with House’ silken-soft Tokusen Kinogoshi Tofu…
Silken-smooth and soft indeed. Like a feather down pillow. Or like.. oh, never mind. lol
Now let’s try Aloha’s take on Soft Tofu…
Hurry and get the shot before it squirms right through them chopsticks! lol Man, I really had to hold this one gingerly in order to maintain my grip on it.
So does that multi-pasteurization process that House’ nationally-distributed Tofu really compromise the quality, flavor, and most importantly freshness in their product, compared to Aloha’s single-pass pasteurization of their soft tofu and non-pasteurized firm tofu? I’d say it’s very difficult to discern the difference. It’s almost as good as the Aloha brand in that regard. Almost.
Texture-wise, the ever-so-slight yet noticeable difference between the two brands of Soft Tofu here is House’ “Level 1″ soft tofu is indeed silken-soft, while it also feels more “gelled” if you will, yet has just enough integrity to not fall apart. Whereas Aloha’s Soft Tofu feels more like a custard pudding, dancing on the edge between being a solid mass to what you see before you, breaking down into a tofu “blob” if you will.
In this case, size matters at least a little (no pun intended), as House addresses the delicate nature of their softest tofu by making the container smaller. Hence, less mass = less chance of a structural breakdown.
On the other hand, Aloha’s Soft Tofu clocks in at the same 20 oz. net size as its Firm sibling, where unless you’ve got a spatula big enough to scoop the whole “detrayed” block from underneath, good luck trying to pick this thing up in one piece by bare hand out of its original container. Nearly impossible!
Nearly impossible, but not totally, where on a separate occasion, I had another block of soft tofu that I “detrayed” at a colder state straight out of the refrigerator, successfully able to keep the block integrated both flipped over and right-sided up by use of both hands and the paper towel..
I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. I think I…
At this ‘fridge-cold state, I probably would have been able to cube Aloha’s Soft Tofu neatly for presentation, but point is already moot. However you can see where I could easily scoop through it with a spoon, showing how custard-like it is, even at this colder temperature…
What’s also notable about the soft tofu from both brands is the shape of the packaging container it’s coagulated and pasteurized in…
Paul noted that chefs he’s worked with over the years have repeatedly complimented how FANTASTIC Aloha’s Soft Tofu is. However they complain the SHAPE of the mold is the deal breaker, with its industrial, non-organic design, making the final shape of the soft tofu “brick” as shown “detrayed” unattractive and impractical for real-world professional kitchen use, particularly in upscale restaurants. They want a sukui Tofu shape that can be quickly and simply plated with minimal fuss. A round bowl with no ridge lines should look organic enough, while also being practical from a cost, packaging and storage standpoint.
Back to comparing, as for TASTE, surprisingly the House “Level 1″ Soft Tofu came across tasting just as fresh as the Aloha Tofu, with both being equally subtle as far tasting “tofu-ish”. If there were any nuances I could detect, I’d say the House Soft Tofu was slightly more creamy in flavor, whereas the Aloha Soft Tofu was actually the more “silky” one; what I think is mainly due to its very, very, VERY soft texture. That lack of “Tofu-ish” flavor makes them both equally good if you’re going to use it for making desserts or other dishes that require this ingredient mainly for body (and/or perhaps its health benefits), but not as a key flavoring component. Like, oh say, Tofu Cheesecake Mousse. More on that in the next post!
Moving along, let’s try Aloha’s Firm Tofu…
Very, very fresh tasting indeed, while also being considerably more “tofu-ish” in flavor, especially compounded by its grittier texture.
Now let’s sample House’ Extra Firm “Level 5″ Tofu…
Right off the bat, the House Extra Firm Tofu comes across as slightly even more gritty than the Aloha brand, while I wouldn’t say it’s THAT much more firm than Aloha’s. If that’s what House considers a “Level 5″ in firmness, than on that same testing bench parameter, I’d put Aloha’s Firm Tofu at “Level 4.5″.
Like the similarities between the two soft tofu, I was surprised how “fresh” the double pasteurized House Tofu tasted, not coming across being as over-processed and bland as I expected in comparison to the non-pasteurized, factory-direct, fresh-as-you-can-get Aloha Firm Tofu. If shelf life in your own refrigerator is important to you, House is the way to go.
Still, there IS a slight edge in freshness Aloha has over it, that’s especially evident in the water it’s soaking in from the factory, where any of that residue on the House Tofu is the only factor that held it back from being neck-and-neck with Aloha. Had I rinsed them both thoroughly under running water first, I’d be hard-pressed to tell one from the other from strictly a freshness standpoint.
Flavor-wise, both brands of Firm Tofu came across pretty much the same, naturally tasting significantly more “tofu-ish” compared to their much softer sisters.
Now let’s try them now with the classic back-to-basics shoyu and minced ginger sauced soaked in on ‘em…
OK, common now, let’s not waste time here. THIS is how you do it!…
Much better! That plate obviously being from another occasion, where I also added some Oyster Sauce into the Shoyu and minced ginger for an added kick of savory sweetness. Oh yes.
With that, as you could imagine, once the sauce hit that beautifully garnished elongated variety plate of soft and firm tofu in the comparison round, it all became a muddled homogenized mass of soft and firm tofu deliciousness, completed by the savory depth of the shoyu and kick from the ginger. Comparison over. Simply enjoy the Tofu moment!…
Seriously though, having both the custard-like silky smooth and “loose” texture of the soft tofu combining with the grittier, denser texture of the firm tofu was really good! Next time you hit the supermarket, get a block of each, cube ‘em up together and try that combo’. Winnahz!
Post-edit, we rewind back to House’ Extra Firm Tofu that’s been added here, let’s garnish and sample that baby…
Whoah, sorry eh, Uncle. Now we got some Goma seed action goin’ on. Steppin’ up there, buddy! lol As you see, this dish has been name the “Tofu Dragon”. Offer that in a restaurant or upscale lounge for $25 or more as an app’. A-ha!
OK, now let’s see how soft House’ extra soft really is…
Oh my, it’s really really soft. I can barely pick it up with my chopstick. So soft, where like Aloha’s Soft Tofu, House’ Extra Soft Tofu borderlines on being “unhashiable” (can’t be picked up with chopsticks). Let me try again…
That piece just barely made it to my mouth. Any farther and I’d be wearing it on my lap. lol I had to practically slurp the stuff directly off the plate, using my hashi to scrape it to the edge, I kid you not.
Again, I’m surprised how fresh-tasting the multi-stage pasteurized, extended shelf life House Extra Soft Tofu comes across as, being ALMOST there with the Aloha Brand. Almost. You can sense a very slight “powderyness” to the House brand, where as I think the Aloha brand is just that much smoother and creamier. I’m on the fence though. They’re both really silky, really creamy and, well, kinda’ sexy! Hey, nothing wrong with food being sexy, right?
OK now, if House considers their Extra Firm Tofu a 5 on their “Firmnometer”, I’d put Aloha’s Deep-Fried Tofu at a level 7…
Deep-fried Tofu? Why yes. And it’s where because most of the water content is dissipated in the preparation and deep-frying process, the result is a much denser, firmer Tofu, where this stuff is really “tight”…
If you’ve never tried this before, think of taking Cone Sushi (Inari-zushi), where instead of stuffing the Aburaage (thinly-sliced deep-fried tofu) with sushi rice, it’s stuffed wall-to-wall with super-firm tofu. It’s so firm, it easily holds its shape when, where Aloha Tofu has a recipe in their cookbook for Tofu Poke using this product.
I’ll most definitely make some Tofu Poke with this in a future post, however on this occasion I decided to experiment by throwing it in a bowl of instant Kim Chee Ramen, ala Soon Dubu style…
Yup, I went there, alright. lol And? Believe or not, pretty darned oishii! Way better than I thought it would be, especially considering I’m so not a fan of this instant Kim Chee Ramen product in its undressed OEM form. As is, that Kim Chee “ramen broth” is just way too spicy-hot and overbearing for my palate, not to mention all the sodium. But the almost meaty, savory flavor of the deep-fried crust on the tofu, combined with the inner part’s neutrality helps to both absorb some of that overbearing chili spice, while also acting like a palate buffer and flavor sponge all at the same time. Next time I’d like to try this using the Soft Tofu for the full Soon Dubu Ramen Experience on the cheap. lol
Let’s get back to House’ “Firmnometer”, which I’m going to use for reference purposes only, except the following scores are on my own personal Tofu firmness parameters…
1.) House Extra Soft Sukui Tofu & Aloha Soft Tofu
2.) House Tokusen Kinugoshi Tofu
3.) Honda Regular Tofu
4.) Aloha Firm Tofu & House Extra Firm Tofu
5.) Aloha Deep-fried Tofu
Summing up my own personal opinion on the subject, whereas before I was totally preferential to Firm Tofu, I now have a much deeper affinity for Soft Tofu for its silky-soft ‘n sexy, wonderfully feminine virtue, where I’ll now get both and combine them for a sort of “Yin and Yang, Male meets Female” complete circle of Tofu life experience. Ya’ know?
Of course it also depends on how you’ll be serving the Tofu. Obviously a stir fry dish will require firm tofu, while soups and desserts that require the tofu to be beaten in a mix will require the extra soft tofu.
Taste-wise, in its purest form as they are here, regardless of their firmness and freshness, no matter what, Tofu is Tofu and will always carry that “bland, wallpaper paste-like” stigma to the uninitiated, as does the equally maligned, yet very loved Hawaiian favorite, Poi!
Speaking of the complete tofu experience, Paul was so kind to share with me a copy of Aloha Tofu’s 60th Anniversary commemorative cookbook (© 2011). This beautifully photographed and well organized book includes the company history, insight, cooking tips and of course fantastic recipes on just about every which way to use and serve tofu!
Able to hold its form without breaking apart being tossed in a bowl, this is the perfect dish for that super-firm Deep-fried Tofu…
Aburage-crusted Pizza? Now THIS I’ll have to try!…
“No Bake” Blueberry Tofu Cheesecake? Do tell!…
Plus so many more oishilicious Aloha Tofu recipes that I’ll certainly strive to share here from this book in the near future, all with Paul and his lovely wife Misa’s approval, of course!
You can purchase the Aloha Tofu Cookbook online at Amazon.com here, or direct at the factory.
Aloha Tofu Factory President Paul Uyehara and Pomai Souza of TastyIslandHawaii.com. September 2012 @ Aloha Tofu Factory, Kalihi, Hawaii.
In the next post, we’ll do an encore review, this time around featuring Aloha Tofu’s limited and truly special Chocolate Cheesecake, Cheesecake and Strawberry Tofu Mousse!…
Related resources and links:
• Recipes from Aloha Tofu Factory – 2012 Flyer PDF download
• Aloha Tofu Factory Stuffed Pork Aburage and “Pupu Age” Recipe – PDF download
• Aloha Tofu Mousse – The Tasty Island review
• Popo’s Tofu Watercress Salad – The Tasty Island recipe
Paul Uyehara, president of Aloha Tofu, takes Chef Sam Choy on a personal tour of the factory and the entire tofu making process…
Hawaii Tofu manufacturers:
Aloha Tofu Factory
961 Akepo Lane
Honolulu, Hawaii 96817
Tel. (808) 845-2669
Fujiya Honpo, Inc
454 Waikamilo Road
Tel. (808) 845-2921
Hometown Noodle Factory
135 N. King Street, Stall 6B
Honolulu, Hawaii 96817
Tel. (808) 523-9888
117 Mango Street
Wahiawa, Hawaii 96786
Tel. (808) 621-5603
Mrs. Cheng’s Soy Bean Products
233 Kalihi Street
Tel. (808) 841-2571
Tomori Tofu Factory
1760 Mona Loop
Hilo, Hawaii 96720
Tel. (808) 959-8516
Tamashiro Tofu Factory
378 N Market St
Wailuku, HI 96793
Tel. (808) 242-6540
P.S. Bayfest 2012 at Kaneohe Marine Base the other weekend was once again a blast (pun intended). I was just disappointed, with eighteen F-22 Raptors now in the Hawaii Air National Guard inventory, they didn’t perform like they did back in 2010, but only were on static display this year.
This HANG F-22 pilot is a local boy, only 25 years old!…